No hail in ‘Hail Mary’The Weather Channel reported that more than 61 tornadoes were spotted in Nebraska, Oklahoma, Iowa and Kansas this past weekend, accompanied by baseball-size hail that shattered windows and tore the siding off of homes.
By: Kevin Holten, The Dickinson Press
The Weather Channel reported that more than 61 tornadoes were spotted in Nebraska, Oklahoma, Iowa and Kansas this past weekend, accompanied by baseball-size hail that shattered windows and tore the siding off of homes.
On April 11, in the Texas panhandle, they had so much hail that it piled up to four feet high. Wow!
Baseball-sized hail. That’s big. And we in North Dakota know how devastating hail can be to crops, grasshoppers and the hood of your new Cadillac. But when it gets to be the size of a baseball and comes at you like a Nolan Ryan fastball, that’s a whole different story.
Throw in a tornado and you’ve got yourself some proof that Mother Nature is angry, hungry, hung over, irritated with the performance of her stock portfolio or frustrated with a husband that hasn’t come home yet.
Which got me thinking about what hail really is because let’s face it, if hail is frozen rain, then how many rain drops have you seen that are the size of a baseball?
And what I discovered is that hail forms when updrafts in thunderstorms carry raindrops upward into extremely cold areas of the atmosphere where they freeze into ice. Which makes sense, but how do they get so big?
They get that big because thunderstorms with strong updrafts keep lifting the hailstones up to the top of the cloud over and over where they encounter more super cooled water and continue to grow; kind of like your waistline when you repeatedly hoist Twinkies, Sweet Tarts and a Big Gulp to your mouth throughout an evening of channel surfing.
The hail then drops out of the sky and toward your Cadillac when the thunderstorm’s updraft can no longer support the weight of the ice or if the updraft weakens. So the stronger the updraft, which begins at ground level and sweeps strongly upward into the clouds, the larger the hailstone can grow.
This means that hailstones can have layers like an onion if they travel up and down in an updraft and therefore you can tell how many times they’ve zoomed to the top by counting the layers. Plus, hailstones can melt a little and then refreeze together, forming very large, weird looking shapes. So the next time you see a hailstone that looks like a profile of Kim Kardashian, George Washington, Abe Lincoln or Jay Leno, realize that it’s just one of those freak things of nature.
Of course, there are things you can do to protect yourself from the negative effects of a hailstorm, which includes getting to know the approaching signs, such as very dark clouds, thunder, lightning, heavy rainfall and a wind strong enough to send your neighbor’s dog flying by your kitchen window.
Prepare a storm kit, make sure everyone in the family knows where it is and put a flashlight, battery-operated radio, fresh batteries, candles, waterproof matches, emergency contacts numbers and maybe a SPAM sandwich inside.
Trim your trees to make sure there aren’t any branches that could fall on your house in high winds. Check your roof for any damage that will make it more susceptible to a hail storm. Clear leaves and other debris from gutters and drainpipes so water can drain quickly, close all windows and external doors if you see a storm approaching and pull your curtains shut to protect yourself against shards of glass flying at you like the knives and forks your wife throws during an argument.
Pull cars, boats and RVs into a covered area, and store your lawn and patio furniture, garbage cans and other large objects that could join your neighbor’s dog in a quick flight around the neighborhood.
Because you see, the formation of hail isn’t all that simple and protecting yourself from its effects takes discipline. Nor is hail related to the “the Hail Mary” pass, which is an expression that dates back to the 1930s when it was used by Elmer Layden and Jim Crowley, two running backs on Notre Dame’s then-powerhouse football team.
Originally the “Hail Mary” meant any sort of desperation play. But it gradually came to be known as a long, low-percentage pass, across at least half of the football field, with, for more than 40 years, its use being confined mostly to Notre Dame and other Catholic universities.
The term then became widespread after Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, a Roman Catholic, said this about his miraculous, game-winning touchdown pass in a 1975 playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings, “I closed my eyes and said a ‘Hail Mary.’”
This somehow reminds me of the time former President Lyndon Johnson told Richard Nixon that being the president was a little like being a jackass caught in a hail storm. “Because you’ve just got to stand there and take it.”
And that’s what Viking fans had to do in 1975; sit/stand there and take it. But at least they didn’t have to dodge baseball-sized hail.
Holten is a freelance columnist and cartoonist from Dickinson.